Who Exactly Is 'The Real Romney'?
In a new biography, two longtime Boston Globe reporters write about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as a complicated man who also "loves dichotomies ... strong versus weak, stagnation versus prosperity, leadership versus drift."
On their hunt for The Real Romney, Scott Helman and Michael Kranish traced Romney's life from his childhood in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., to his career at private equity firm Bain Capital, and then to his work in politics — first as the governor of Massachusetts and then as a presidential candidate in 2008 and 2012.
On Thursday's Fresh Air, Helman and Kranish join Terry Gross for a wide-ranging conversation about Romney, whom they portray as a deeply analytical man guided strongly by his Mormon faith.
Romney can seem detached in political settings, they write, and often struggles to connect outside of his closest confidants. Though his political career strongly mirrors that of his father, George, the former governor of Michigan, it also differs in significant ways: "If George Romney shot from the hip, his son, before he shoots at all, carefully studies the target, lines up the barrel just right, and might even fire a few practice rounds," write Helman and Kranish.
They start their biography by examining Romney's ancestors, many of whom played crucial roles in the development of the Mormon faith.
"I really felt that the ancestral story [of Mitt Romney] was very important because through that story, you can really understand the story of Mormonism as well," says Kranish. "And Mitt Romney doesn't want to talk about this extensively, but if you're writing a full-scale biography like we set out to do, you need to go back in history and explain where this family [came] from, how they [came] to the United States, what made them tick."
Using genealogical records, Helman and Kranish learned that Romney's great-great-grandfather Miles immigrated to the United States from England, after hearing a missionary from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints preach. Miles became a prominent leader in the Mormon faith, and later designed several historic buildings in Utah. His son, Miles P. Romney, a colleague of Brigham Young, had five wives and more than 30 children. He founded a Mormon colony in Mexico in the 1880s after being forced to flee from the United States for practicing a polygamous lifestyle.
"They made [the Mexican colony] a very prosperous community," says Kranish. "I have been down to Mexico and visited the community today, and there are still many Romneys living there. The Romneys there are very proud of their heritage."
Other Romneys eventually left Mexico and made their way throughout the American Southwest and Utah. Mitt's father, George, who was born in Mexico, arrived in the U.S. when he was 5. He eventually made his way to Michigan, where he became an auto executive and then the three-term governor of Michigan.
"He was a man of deep faith," says Kranish. "He established a small Mormon community in Michigan, where there are far fewer Mormons than there are in Utah. George Romney was a very proud leader of that and certainly raised his family to be devout Mormons."
Mitt Romney grew up in Michigan and then moved to Palo Alto, Calif., to attend Stanford University. After his freshman year, he left for 2 1/2 years to go on a mission to France, which he says greatly strengthened his own faith.
"He knocked on doors. He describes feeling 'lower than a Fuller Brush salesman,' " says Kranish. "He would say, 'Imagine if you go to Bordeaux and you tell people, "I've got a great new religion for you, and by the way, give up your wine." ' So he says he learned a lot about rejection and a lot about his faith."
When Romney returned to the United States, he transferred to Brigham Young University in Utah. After finishing his bachelor's degree, he moved to Boston to attend Harvard University's law and business schools. He also became a leader in the Mormon lay clergy in Massachusetts, and eventually became the leader of more than a dozen congregations in eastern Massachusetts. During his tenure, he successfully negotiated changes in church policy on behalf of women in his congregation who felt their voices were not being heard.
"Some of the more liberal members of the church told me that they were impressed that Romney was willing to accept many of [their demands]," says Helman. "Certainly there were things he could not change. Salt Lake City was not going to permit women entering the priesthood, for example, but he made a lot of significant changes, and that impressed a lot of people. If you ask them today, these people who are happy about these changes will recall him as a flexible, dynamic leader."
On Romney and the Vietnam War
Kranish: "He spent a year at [Stanford University], his freshman [year] of college. And there were protests going on, on campus. Not like the kind of protests were at Berkeley — the protesters at one point wore suits and ties. But he saw these protests going on at the campus of Stanford and his father was certainly in favor of the Vietnam War. This was the moment when his father went over to Vietnam — later said he was brainwashed — but at the time, he came back to the United States very much in favor of the war, and stopped and visited Mitt Romney on the Stanford campus. So [he] reinforced the idea that this war was very important and a good idea and conveyed that to Mitt at that time. ... Another student in Romney's dorm ... led some protests and was elected student body president, and Mitt went out and protested these protesters."
On Peggie Hayes
Helman: "One of the things the Mormon church does not look kindly upon is single parenthood. There was a woman named Peggie Hayes who had known Romney when she was in his ward. She had come from a family which had had some struggles, had looked to Mormonism to anchor them. She had a child and then was pregnant with the second child. She was married when she had the first child and got divorced. So she was not married at the time. So Mitt Romney came to her apartment in the city of Somerville [in Massachusetts], and he delivers this message to her, which is, by her interpretation, fairly harsh. Which is: The church does not want you to keep this baby; the church thinks it would be better if your soon-to-be-born son would grow up in a family with two parents, so we think you should give the child up for adoption. And Peggie Hayes' first reaction is that she must have misheard something because she can't believe what he's asking her to do. But he continues, according to her, and in fact goes so far as to threaten her with excommunication — that she could be thrown out of the church, essentially, if she didn't follow the church's orders. This was a very distressing visit from her perspective. Romney later denied that he had threatened her with excommunication. But this was a profound moment for Peggie and part of the reason why she ended up leaving the church."
On Romney's job creation record
Kranish: "We conclude that it's really not possible to definitively say how many jobs were created, how many jobs were lost, because most of [Bain Capital's] investments were in private companies where there aren't records available. We asked Bain Capital and the Romney campaign for specific records on every company, and they did not hand them over. Bain Capital says Mitt Romney's right when he talks about his job creation record, but there's not a company-by-company listing of jobs lost and created that you can go to in that way."
On the health care bill Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts that requires individuals to purchase insurance
Helman: "You hear him barely talk about it because it is not popular among the Republican primary electorate. I think that will change if he's the nominee. I think he will start to talk about it more. ... To Romney, there was a personal responsibility here. If you get sick, you go to the hospital and you're treated, and somebody pays for that. He felt that requiring people to have insurance was consistent with his philosophy, which was that everyone should look out for themselves and take care of themselves. This was his major achievement in Massachusetts as governor. ... Now he goes to great lengths to say that he hates Obamacare and President Obama is wrong and it should be repealed. The fact is, there are a lot of similarities in the bills. The Obama plan was modeled in many ways after the Massachusetts plan. It will be interesting to see how [Romney] continues to talk about it."
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Every day seems to bring big news in the Republican primary race. Today we learn that Mitt Romney can no longer claim to have won the Iowa caucuses. The certified results of the caucuses, released today, show Rick Santorum ahead by 34 votes, but no official winner has been declared because the results of eight precincts are missing.
We're going to talk about Mitt Romney with the authors of a new book about him called "The Real Romney." It covers the role of his ancestors in the history of the Mormon faith, his own leadership within the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, his father George Romney's political career as governor of Michigan, Mitt's success as a venture capitalist, as the head of Bain Capital, and his political career.
My guests are Michael Kranish and Scott Helman. Kranish is deputy chief of the Boston Globe's Washington bureau and a former White House correspondent. Helman is a staff writer at the Globe and former political editor. He was a lead writer on the 2008 presidential campaign.
Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, welcome to FRESH AIR. You spend a lot of time in the book on Mitt Romney's family history, which is entwined with the history of Mormonism. A lot of people want to know more about his Mormon faith but are almost afraid to ask because they don't want to seem judgmental about his faith. Why did you decide to focus a lot of this story on that?
MICHAEL KRANISH: Well, Terry - this is Michael speaking - and I really felt that the ancestral story was very important because through that story, you can really understand the story of Mormonism, as well. And it's true, Mitt Romney really doesn't want to talk about this extensively.
But if you're writing a full-scale biography like we really set out to do, you need to go back in history and explain where did this family come from, how did they come to the United States, what made them tick. And so we were able to go back with records and find out that the ancestors came from an area near Liverpool, England, and a great-great-grandfather had heard a missionary come from the United States and preach, and that individual and his family decided to come over to the United States through Illinois, which was then the center place of Mormon life.
So we felt that really gives you a sense because right at the beginning of Mormonism, you can see the Romney family, and throughout this story, their story is intertwined with the growth of the Mormon Church.
GROSS: In Nauvoo, where Mitt Romney's great-great-great-grandfather moved from England, was a community kind of founded by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon faith, created as a haven for the faithful after they'd been expelled from other areas.
So the Romneys moved to Nauvoo, and then they have to leave there. Why do they end up having to leave?
KRANISH: Well, the Mormons were under attack. They had already been kicked out of other places. And in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith was leading this new religion, and there were a lot of people who did not accept it, were fearful of it.
Joseph Smith, in fact, declared his candidacy for the presidency, and there were a lot of people who were against him and eventually...
GROSS: Presidency of the United States? I didn't realize that.
KRANISH: Of the United States, president of the United States. He was the first actual Mormon candidate for the United States, long before Mitt Romney, of course. This was very short-lived, but he felt that the Mormons were being mistreated by the federal government, and this was his way to get the message across, probably didn't think he had a chance of being elected but like some candidates even today, you know, they want to get a message across.
He was assassinated, and Mormons were forced out of Nauvoo and began their long trek over the Mormon Trail to what later was known as Utah. One of the Mormon ancestors of Mitt Romney stayed behind briefly to finish work on the Mormon temple that was being built in Nauvoo. So literally the Romneys were responsible for building the temple and part of the faith.
And then eventually they did leave Nauvoo, and then I pick up the story with a - the great-grandfather of Mitt Romney, who is Miles Park Romney, and he's seven years old when he arrives in Utah, and pick up the story from there as he grows up with this religion as they all move to Utah.
GROSS: So the Romney family really is in on the Mormon faith at the very start. Romney's ancestors knew Joseph Smith, the founder of the faith, and knew Brigham Young, who became, you know, the head of the faith after Joseph Smith was assassinated.
In fact, it's Brigham Young who tells Romney's - correct me I'm wrong, it's great-great-grandfather...
KRANISH: The great-grandfather.
GROSS: To have a plural marriage, to marry and then to marry a second wife and then tells him also to move to Mexico and start a community where polygamy could thrive because it was under attack in the United States.
So let's start with Brigham Young telling Mitt Romney's great-grandfather to take a second wife. What was the first wife's reaction to that?
KRANISH: Well, the first wife, this was a central belief, and one of the remarkable things that we were able to find was a journal that the first wife later wrote about what happened. So it's a remarkable testament to what Mormon women had to endure at that time in history.
And she followed the faith, certainly a period of great distress that we write about in the book, but she made the home welcome to the second wife, and later there was another wife. And as you mentioned, when polygamy was basically outlawed in the United States, the Romney family believed so strongly that polygamy was a divine pronouncement that they did as instructed and went to Mexico and created this new colony where polygamy would still be allowed.
GROSS: And why then was polygamy considered a kind of divine commandment?
KRANISH: Well, Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders had said that this was essentially a practice that they had read of in the Bible, and this was revealed to them that this should be part of the religion. And so Joseph Smith had many wives, Brigham Young did, and this was - became the common practice among Mormons.
Now, not all Mormons did this. The Romney family was among the proponents of this. In fact, Mitt Romney's great-grandfather in essence lobbied Congress trying to fight against legislation that would have banned polygamy and made it even more difficult to continue to have.
GROSS: So Mitt Romney's great-grandfather goes to Mexico at the command of Brigham Young, sets up a community for polygamy to thrive. How successful is he? How far does this community get?
KRANISH: Well, it's extraordinarily difficult when they go down there, and at some point, basically Mitt Romney's great-grandfather had four wives, and they were living there, and the community did grow. It was very difficult conditions at first, but they made it into a very prosperous community. And eventually these Romneys did thrive, and they did do well. It took a long time.
And it was - I actually have been down to Mexico and visited the community today, and there are still many Romneys living there. And it's an extraordinary place, and the Romneys are very proud there of their heritage.
GROSS: Did they talk with you?
KRANISH: They did. I had a wonderful experience where I contacted a gentleman named Mike Romney, and he is the cousin of Mitt Romney that they both have the same great-grandfather, and he talked to me at great depth about the Romney family history, drove me around the area, and they have great pride.
From the Romney family perspective in Mexico, they believe that the Romneys were responsible for helping to settle part of the American Southwest and part of Mexico, and they believe this was part of the great American story. Yes, polygamy is part of it, it's not something that they practice today at all in that colony, but it's something that's part of their history, and they're very proud of their ancestors despite the controversy over that.
GROSS: So in spite of the fact that some of the Romney family remains in Mexico, Mitt Romney's grandfather ends up fleeing Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. What was the problem?
KRANISH: Well, they were under attack. There was a revolution there. And in fact - what a lot of people don't realize is that Mitt Romney's father, George Romney, was five years old at the time. He was born in Mexico.
If you look back at George Romney's presidential run, it's a bit surprising there wasn't more controversy over the fact that he was born in Mexico, didn't come to the United States until he was five years old. So it gives you a direct connection. This is not some far-flung ancestral story; it's the story of Mitt Romney's own father.
And then the family did go to Utah, other places in this country, and George Romney, of course, became very successful. But he had quite a struggle at first to go from being a five-year-old refugee to the man he became.
GROSS: So George Romney, Mitt's father, was the three-time governor of Michigan after having a very successful career in the auto industry. How did his Mormon faith and his Mormon ancestry affect, if at all, his political life?
SCOTT HELMAN: Well, you know, it wasn't quite as much made of it then as today, but there was a biography at the time that was called "George Romney: Mormon in Politics." So clearly it was an issue.
He dropped out before the first presidential primary in New Hampshire. So a lot of the focus that may have come about his Mexican roots and his religion basically didn't get off the ground. So the controversy that may have followed about that did not come through.
But he was a man of deep faith. He established a Mormon church in Michigan, where there are far fewer Mormons, obviously, than there are in Utah. So it was a pretty small community in Michigan. George Romney was a very proud leader of that in his community and certainly raised his family to be devout Mormons.
The big, interesting thing, when you look back at the history of George Romney and Mormonism, is that he disagreed with the church's policy of not allowing African-Americans to be in the priesthood in the Mormon Church. He believed that that was a mistake, that was wrong. He disagreed with Barry Goldwater in 1964 over civil rights and walked out of that nominating convention.
So George Romney was quite a liberal on civil rights and what the church should do for African-Americans. Within the church, he received some criticism. Eventually, the church did reverse that policy, but that took a long time, as Romney has said...
GROSS: I believe that was in 1978.
HELMAN: Yes, and Mitt Romney has said when he heard that they finally did that, that was a very proud moment, that this was something, obviously, that was an embarrassment, frankly, to the family, and he was so glad this his father had fought for that.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Scott Helman and Michael Kranish of the Boston Globe. They're the authors of the new book "The Real Romney." Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more about Mitt Romney. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: If you're just joining us, we're talking about Mitt Romney with the authors of the new book "The Real Romney." My guests are Michael Kranish and Scott Helman of the Boston Globe.
So we were talking about Mitt Romney's ancestors, their importance in the history of the Mormon faith. Mitt Romney served as a missionary in France for two-and-a-half years, and that's a pretty mandatory requirement, right, to serve a...
HELMAN: That's right.
GROSS: Yeah, to serve as a missionary. So it was during when he would have been in college, he took a two-and-a-half-year break, and during that time, you say, you know, he was only allowed to make a couple of phone calls a year to his parents or to his girlfriend, and his girlfriend was Ann, who he ends up later marrying.
And he had kind of proposed to her before he went and was afraid that she'd find someone else while he was on his mission, but they did end up getting married. So anyway, he's sent to France, and his job there is, what, converting people to the faith?
HELMAN: That's right, you're sent to proselytize for your faith, and the idea of a mission is that also you strengthen your own faith while you're there. He was there for about two, two-and-a-half years. Maybe he converted 12 people in that time, and that's considered a good number, but what he does say is that he left, when he was in Michigan, before he went on the mission, he said he had a quote, "thin tissue," quote-unquote, to his faith, but that faith dramatically strengthened while he was a missionary.
And as you mentioned, he was - he had some hesitance because various concerns, including the idea that he might lose Ann, who he had met when they were both in high school, in prep school there in Michigan, but she said if you don't do this, you'll always regret it. And so he did go off on this mission, being apart from her for that great length of time.
And the relationship survived him being away. When he was there in France, he was set up with several other missionaries, and it was an extremely structured environment. You couldn't leave a fellow missionary unless you went to the bathroom. You really were in a small bubble, if you will, which is a pattern in his life that we've seen.
And he knocked on doors. He describes feeling, quote, "lower than a Fuller Brush salesman." He would go places and say: Imagine if you go to Bordeaux, and you tell people I've got a great new religion for you, and by the way, give up your wine. So he says he learned a lot about rejection and a lot about his faith, but he does say that through the experience, he came through a stronger believer in his faith.
GROSS: During his two-and-a-half years as a missionary, he nearly died in a car accident. He was driving with the head - correct me if I'm wrong - the head of the mission and his wife, and the car was hit head-on by another car. The head of the mission's wife was killed, the head of the mission was severely injured. Mitt Romney nearly died. What were his injuries?
KRANISH: He very nearly died, in fact he got so close to death that one of the first people to respond to the accident, a policeman actually, wrote in his passport (foreign language spoken), which means he is dead. His vital signs were so undetectable at that point.
This was a - you know, a horrific crash. There was a Catholic priest driving a Mercedes on a windy French road. Mitt is driving five other Mormons in this Citroen. So he's in the front seat with the mission president and the mission president's wife. The car comes around the curve, misses a turn and slams right into Romney's car.
The woman next to him, a woman named Leola Anderson(ph), who was the mission president's wife, she was crushed in the accident and died two-and-a-half hours later.
Mitt had very - I mean, almost sort of shockingly, his injuries were not that severe. I mean, there's a picture of him in the hospital with his arm in a cast, and, you know, he was knocked unconscious and so forth. But his recovery was really remarkable both physically and emotionally.
I mean, this was a hugely significant event, of course, in his life. It shattered the life of the mission president, who had lost his wife, and yet it falls to Mitt Romney and some of the other very young Mormons there to run the Mormon mission in France because Duane Anderson, the mission president, returned to the States to grieve and bury his wife.
GROSS: Well, another interesting thing, too, that you point out in the book is that he's from this car family. His father, you know, was big in the auto industry, and now he was in a car accident that nearly killed him, and you say he started to fear cars instead of love them.
KRANISH: Absolutely. I mean, in fact - and this was a well-known, or I should say a fear that many people had in France in those days. In fact, the moment that the accident happened, the discussion in the car was about how dangerous French roads were and how scared everybody was to drive.
Even after this fatal accident, Romney was in another sort of a fender-bender in the closing months of his mission, but he was deathly afraid of driving in that country, and a fellow missionary told us that he was very excited to be leaving, in part because he was tired of the French roads.
So there is a certain irony in that the guy who grew up, you know, loving cars and looking at new models in his dad's briefcase suddenly, you know, wanted to get about as far away from the automobile as he could.
GROSS: When Mitt Romney was in college, he supported the war in Vietnam and opposed all the protests against the war. But he didn't serve in the military. He had a student deferment. And then he ended up getting a missionary deferment. And the missionary deferment was kind of complicated at the time. Do you want to describe why?
HELMAN: Right, well, when he was at Stanford, and this is a really interesting year in his life to me because it's not something that Mitt Romney talks about. He spent a year there, his freshman year of college, obviously he was away from Ann, and there were protests going on campus.
It's not like the kind of protests were at Berkeley. At Stanford, the protesters at one point wore suit and tie. But he saw these protests going on on the campus of Stanford, and his father at that time was certainly in favor of the Vietnam War. In fact, this was the moment when his father went over to Vietnam, later said he was brainwashed, but at the time when he came back, he came back to the United States very much in favor of the war and stopped and visited Mitt Romney on the Stanford campus and so reinforced the idea that this war was very important and a good idea and conveyed that to Mitt at that time.
I think that's very significant in understanding the formation of Mitt Romney. And then lo and behold, this protest takes shape, and another person in the same dormitory as Mitt Romney, an anti-war protester named David Harris, who later married Joan Baez, he led some protests and was elected the student body president, and Mitt went out and protested these protesters.
And there's a picture in the book from the time, where he's holding a sign protesting the protesters. So it was only much later, when his father had said he'd been brainwashed, that Mitt Romney said that he agreed, basically, with that idea and in essence said that Vietnam had not been a good idea.
As far as the deferments are, yes he got deferments for a number of years as a student, and then also, as a Mormon, each area of Mormonism could have a certain number of deferments because you were a missionary considered basically the equivalent of a religious minister.
In Utah, there weren't enough deferments like that to go around. In Michigan, much easier to get the deferment. So he got the deferment every time.
GROSS: So after Brigham Young University, Mitt Romney goes to Harvard. Mitt Romney and Ann are living in Boston, make a home there, and he becomes very active in the Mormon Church there and becomes the stake president, doesn't he? What does that mean, yeah?
KRANISH: That's right. Yeah, sure, so Mormons, unlike a lot of other faiths, do not have a paid clergy. So in the Catholic faith, of course, there are priests, and then there are Catholic diocese, and they have - you know, they are jobs. They are jobs that people do full-time.
It's not like that in Mormonism. Mormonism has lay leaders, and those lay leaders are bishops, which means you're in charge of your local congregation, or a stake president, which essentially means you're in charge of the equivalent of a diocese, a group of congregations.
And people like Mitt Romney and other Mormons in good standing are expected to take on this sort of ecclesiastical role above and beyond their family life and their personal life, their career, whatever it is they're doing. So Romney held three different positions in suburban Boston as a Mormon leader.
He was what's called a counselor to the stake president, he was a bishop of his local ward, and then he sort of graduated from that to oversee the entire Boston stake, up until the time he ran against Ted Kennedy for Senate.
HELMAN: And, you know, these are very - they are lay jobs, but they're very, very important, and those people have immense power within the church to, you know, decide essentially what happens to members of the congregation, to counsel people in times of need. I mean, they really are a sort of pastoral presence even though, again, they're doing this sort of in their free time, so to speak.
GROSS: My guests, Scott Helman and Michael Kranish, will be back in the second half of the show. Their new book is called "The Real Romney." Kranish is deputy chief of the Boston Globe's Washington bureau and a former White House correspondent. Helman is a staff writer who is the Globe's former political editor and national political reporter. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're talking about Mitt Romney with the authors of the new book "The Real Romney." The authors, Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, are both with the Boston Globe. Their biography of Romney is also about his ancestors and their role in the growth of the Mormon faith. When we left off, we were talking about Mitt Romney's leadership role within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served as a stake president. A stake president is a lay leader of an area similar to a Catholic diocese who works as a volunteer, overseeing church programs, and serves as a counselor to congregation members.
Well, you write that, you know, most people who know Mitt Romney have a story about his great generosity - whether it's, you know, financial or emotional, being there in times of need, helping people. But you also found stories about people who were counseled by Romney and were very unhappy with the advice that he gave.
And a story that really stands out in that area is a story of Peggie Hayes. Would you tell the story?
HELMAN: Absolutely. So you're absolutely right that you will find divergent views of Mitt Romney from the people he led. One of the things I was most surprised in doing the research in this book was to learn how incredibly charitable and generous he has been - he and his family have been - in often very quiet ways, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in large ways. But it's not something he ever, or that he rarely, I would say, talked about. And I found that sort of fascinating, especially in light of sort of how he's sort of viewed today.
The story of Peggie Hayes is one that reflects the sort of friction between women in the church, especially sort of liberal women in the Boston area, and Mormonism. I mean it's a very male-dominated faith. They are very strict rules and very high expectations for sort of how you live your life, what morals you hold, what you do, what you don't do. One of the things that the Mormon Church does not look terribly kindly on is single parenthood - or at least didn't at the time. And so there was a woman named Peggie Hayes, who had known Romney when she was in his ward. She had come from a family that had had some struggles, had looked to Mormonism to sort of anchor them. And so she had this relationship with him. She had had a child and then was pregnant with a second child. And Romney...
GROSS: She was married when she had the first child and divorced when she had the second.
HELMAN: She was married when she had the first, exactly. She got divorced and then she was pregnant with a second child, but she was not married at the time. And so Mitt Romney came to her apartment in the city of Somerville, which is a mostly working-class city just north of Boston, and he delivers this, you know, message to her, which is, by her interpretation, fairly harsh, which is: Look, the church does not want you to keep this baby; the church thinks it would be better if your soon-to-be-born son would grow up in a family with two parents, so we think you should give the child up for adoption. And Peggie Hayes's first reaction is she must have misheard something because she sort of can't believe what he's asking her to do. But he continues, according to her, and in fact goes so far as to threaten her with excommunication, to say that she could be thrown out of the church, essentially, if she didn't follow the church's orders. So this was, of course, a very distressing visit from her perspective. Now, Romney, I should say, later denied that he had actually threatened her with excommunication. But this was a profound moment for Peggie and part of the reason why she ended up leaving the church, because she just couldn't abide this idea that the church was asking, you know, her to give up her son.
GROSS: Romney did not deny that he was asking that.
HELMAN: No. What he specifically denied was that he had threatened her with excommunication.
GROSS: Now, on the other side of that, there was a woman's within the Mormon Church in the Boston area who wanted a more liberalized set of standards. And they went to Romney and Romney was able to negotiate many things that they wanted. What did they ask for that Romney was able to deliver?
HELMAN: A lot of those things sound like small things alone, but taken together they were seen as a sort of significant body of demands by this group of women that felt like, you know, they were tired of always - of not being able to speak in church and they wanted changing tables in the men's restrooms. I mean there were a series of things that they were asking for that they felt would help bring women up to maybe not an equal level in the Mormon Church but for them to have a greater voice, essentially, in the life of the church and the sort of daily rituals.
And so, for example, one thing that they asked for was to be allowed to represent the stake presidency in talks to different congregations around a stake. This was something that had historically been afforded only to men. Women wanted - women in leadership roles wanted a chance to be able to sort of stand up at a church and say I'm the representative of the Boston stake, I bring you the stake president's greetings, to essentially be a figurehead of the church at a local congregation. And so they went to Romney and he agreed to hold this meeting and I think a couple of hundred women showed up and they offered about 70 or 80 suggestions, and some of the more liberal members of the church told me that they were pretty impressed that Romney was willing to accept many of them. And certainly there were things he could not change. I mean Salt Lake City was not going to permit, you know, women to enter the priest - hold the priesthood, for example. But he made a lot of significant changes, agreed to them, and that impressed a lot of people. And if you asked them today, these people who are happy about these changes will recall him as a sort of flexible, dynamic leader.
GROSS: Let's talk a little bit about Mitt Romney's business career as a venture capitalist. Venture capitalism is all about risk, taking big risks to hopefully make a lot of money. But you describe when he accepted the offer to be the head of Bain Capital, the venture capital company, that he had this incredible safety net so that he wasn't taking a risk by joining. In other words, if the company just folded, he had this great safety net. What did he negotiate for himself?
KRANISH: Well, it's interesting because so many of his partners describe Mitt Romney as risk averse. And when he was first offered the job by Bill Bain - they worked together at Bain & Company, which was a business consulting firm, they advised companies how to improve their bottom line - and Bill Bain said to Mitt Romney, I have a proposal for you to create a new company called Bain Capital and in that position you'll be using some of your money, some investors' money and actually investing in companies while also giving them advice on how to improve their company. And Mitt Romney did not take this offer at first. He was concerned that it would blow up. He was comfortable, he had a growing family, was making plenty of money. But Bill Bain was persistent, so he increased the offer and he said, I'll tell you what, if this doesn't work, I'll give you your old job back. You're basically, you know, you can't lose under this position. So Mitt Romney thought about it some more and decided with that proviso that he would go ahead.
GROSS: So what was the Bain approach to venture capital?
KRANISH: Well, Terry, you know, it's interesting. He started out - in fact, the company was originally going to be called Bain Venture Capital. And venture capital is a very pure play of capitalism. You're taking your money, investors' money, and you're essentially starting a new company, it's a new venture. Pretty quickly he's decided that actually was too risky - and I'll get into that in a minute. But in the venture capital business the one deal that he talks about more than any other is Staples. What's interesting is we looked at about 100 deals that Romney did in his 15 years at Bain Capital. Staples turns out to be one of the smallest deals that they did. They put in about two and a half million dollars and they got back about 13 million. OK, that's a pretty good return. But a lot of other deals where Romney made his real money, he made hundreds of millions of dollars - or in one case I write about, even a billion dollars, and those were leveraged buyout deals. So in Staples, you know, he's making a lot of comments about creating jobs and so forth.
If you look back, when he was asked about this for the first time in 1994, he told the Boston Globe that he's always careful to say only that I quote, "helped," unquote, create the jobs. And at one point he said, quote, "I don't take credit for the jobs at Staples." In the current campaign, his campaign is saying that Mitt Romney created more than 100,000 jobs and they attribute 89,000 of those to Staples. Most of those 89,000 jobs were created long after Bain Capital cashed out its stake at Staples. Now, if you talk to the founder of Staples, as we did, Thomas Stemberg, he'll say Romney deserves credit. Without Romney's help we might not have ever gotten off the ground and so therefore why not give him credit for all the jobs that subsequently came?
Other experts would say you can only really claim credit for the jobs at a company that you ran. And Romney didn't really run companies; he ran a very large investment fund. Oftentimes you had to put in at least $1 million to invest, and after the success of Staples and some other venture capital investments, he decided he wanted to get into this new controversial field of leveraged buyouts. And it's really leveraged buyouts where Mitt Romney made most of his money, and that became very controversial.
GROSS: You make the point that, yes, many jobs were created through Staples, but at the same time many people lost their jobs because Staples kind of, you know, took over so much of the office supply and stationery market that a lot of small stationery and office supply stores and suppliers went under, and those jobs were lost.
KRANISH: That's right. I mean this is capitalism, the way it works. And in fact, Romney himself approvingly said that Staples was a, quote, "classic category killer." And what that means is that there are other people who will go out of business - maybe mom and pop stationeries. That's why it's so hard, when you look at job claims, to balance it out. I've talked with some of his partners, and frankly, some of them are a little uncomfortable with the idea of just saying, you know, here's the net-net job creation, as Romney has phrased it, because they well know that to be more efficient sometimes things are downscaled, and in the case of Staples, clearly there were other businesses that went out. In fact, another investment he had, in a paper company, that company some people believe was actually hurt because Staples could demand such lower prices and so it actually ended up, the success of Staples, hurting a different investment at Bain capital. So you got to balance all these factors when looking at how Mitt Romney's job creation record stacks up.
GROSS: What was Bain's track record in terms of buying a company and kind of firing people, scaling it down so it could be sold at a profit? And correct me if I'm describing this incorrectly.
KRANISH: Well, that - obviously they didn't go into the business wanting to simply get a company, fire people, and make a profit. Their hope - and in some cases they certainly did this extremely well, to be fair - their hope was that they'd go in and a company that was sort of going along, meandering along, that needed a fresh voice, that voice would come in. Perhaps a Bain Capital partner would get a seat on the board of directors and so forth. And one of his partners, for example, told me, he's quoted in the book as saying, you know, we didn't go in saying how many jobs we could create. We're not in the job creation business per se, sometimes it was the opposite - how many jobs can we cut - because downscaling efficiencies might be part of better management. So that's the individual, you know, for example, who might feel less comfortable with the idea that it's all about job creation. You have to look at the overall. There are about 100 deals.
There was a report that was done by an investment bank, looked at about 67 deals or so, maybe about half of those were profitable for Bain Capital, so about half, you know, weren't in the end. Now, that's separate from management fees that they got. And then if you look at the ones that were profitable, it was really just a small handful of deals that made the vast majority of the money. So those - when he won, he won big time. When he lost, there were in fact examples of factories shut and jobs lost.
We conclude that it's really not possible to definitively say how many jobs were created, how many jobs were lost, because most of these investments were in private companies where there are not records available. We asked Bain Capital and the Romney campaign for the specific records on every company, and they did not hand them over. Bain Capital says Mitt Romney's right when he talks about his job creation record, but there's not a company-by-company listing with jobs lost and created that you can go to in that way.
And then also there's the issue of Mitt Romney's tax returns. The Globe for I think 20 years has been asking for his tax returns, 'cause that would show you year by year how he was personally making his money from specific investments and funds and what happened with those companies. So in the current campaign, Mitt Romney has suggested that maybe he would release his tax returns. It's not clear to me as a reporter whether that means simply last year's returns or the returns for 20 years, 'cause it's the older returns that you'd really want to see to match up what he did with his investments and how he profited, and that might give us a fuller answer to the question you're asking.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, we're talking about Mitt Romney with the authors of the book "The Real Romney." My guests are Michael Kranish and Scott Helman of the Boston Globe.
Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: My guests are Michael Kranish and Scott Helman of the Boston Globe. They're the authors of the new book "The Real Romney," and it's a book all about Mitt Romney's political career, his career at Bain Capital, his life as a Mormon, his ancestors, and more.
So let's talk about his political career. He decides to run for office, run for the Senate against Ted Kennedy. His political positions than were very different than they are now, particularly in values kinds of questions. He wrote a check to support Planned Parenthood. He supported the legalization of RU-486, a pill that induces abortion. He wanted the support of the Log Cabin Republicans, the Republican gay group. He didn't support gay marriage but he supported a certain amount of gay rights. So what's your understanding of why his views changed between then and now?
KRANISH: Well, this is the - sort of the million dollar question, right? And if you ask him about it he would say, look, I grew up and I matured and I learned more. But, I mean, the reality is this - is his introduction to the national stage, to the political realm. He'd never really been forced to answer these questions about what he believed.
And so, you know, at the time he staked out, I mean, an incredible number of positions that seem so, sort of, foreign to us today as we pay attention to him on the campaign trail. I mean, this was the man who stood up in a debate and said, you know, that he's not trying to return to Reagan/Bush. I was an independent. You know, basically throwing Ronald Reagan under the bus, and now he embraces him at every turn.
So I think part of it is, he was trying to figure out who he was, politically. It seemed, in meetings with supporters and interest groups and so forth, that he didn't care very much, if you will, that he was wanting to do what was pragmatic. He knew that you had to be a socially liberal Republican to win in Massachusetts.
That was part of their whole campaign strategy, was to position himself as this Weld Republican, after Bill Weld, the moderate Massachusetts governor who'd won in 1990. So from then until now, I mean, we've seen an incredible change on a number of things. Of course, the, sort of, cynical view of it is that he's just purely an opportunist who has run whatever campaign he has needed to, to win whatever race he's running at the time.
He would say that he had a genuine change of heart on a lot of these things and that the landscape changed around him. But look, I think that it's undeniable that he cuts a very, very different political profile today than he did in 1994 and even in 2002. And I think that gets to the heart of why conservatives, in particular, are having such a hard time embracing him as a candidate.
GROSS: The healthcare bill that he signed as governor of Massachusetts is considered his greatest political accomplishment and also, now, his biggest liability as a presidential candidate. So, what was his language about that bill like, then compared to now?
HELMAN: Well, it's interesting. Now you hear him barely ever talk about it, because it is not popular among the Republican primary electorate. I think that will change if he's the nominee. I think you will start to see him talk about it more. But at the time, this was something that he felt very strongly about. And he, in particular, felt strongly about the most controversial part of it, which is this individual requirement, this mandate that individuals buy insurance.
The models that they looked at showed that this was a key component to bringing universal healthcare to Massachusetts. And to Romney there was a conservative principle here. It was about personal responsibility. It was about not, sort of, freeloading in the system, right? If you get sick you go to the hospital and you're treated. Somebody pays for that. He felt that requiring people to have insurance was consistent with his conservative philosophy, which is that everyone should look out for themselves and take care of themselves.
I mean, by all accounts – and this was his major achievement in Massachusetts as governor – he accomplished this just as he was starting to sort of, you know, look elsewhere and walk out the door and be more concerned with this presidential ambition. So, I mean, it was a remarkable achievement, even more so, when you consider he was barely paying attention to the state at that point and was much more focused on his national race.
And now, you know, he goes to great lengths of course to say that he hates Obamacare and President Obama's wrong and it should be repealed. The fact is, there are a lot of similarities between the bills and, you know, the Obama plan was modeled, in many ways, after the Massachusetts plan. So it would be really interesting to see how he continues to talk about that and if that changes during the general election.
GROSS: Based on everything that you know about Mitt Romney, and you know a lot, what do you think his leadership style would be as president? And what do you think his – do you have any sense of what his priorities would be?
HELMAN: Well, I think his leadership style would be – if you look at what he did in the governorship and at Bain Capital, he tends to like to have a small group of very close trusted advisors around him and meet and argue out the merits of a particular proposal before him. You know, he doesn't really have direct foreign policy experience. He has said, when asked about some foreign policy matters, that he would have experts who would deal with that. So this is the kind of person, though his background is as a consultant where he wants to go get all the information.
He believes in "wallowing in the data" quote/unquote. That's one of his favorite phrases - very quantitatively driven. So I think you might see him get it a lot in the weeds. Perhaps, if he does become president, people would say you're getting too much like Jimmy Carter, but it's part of who he is. He is a data guy. That's what he loves.
And he likes to have analysts and other people advise him. As governor of Massachusetts, he was fairly pragmatic. Obviously to win the Republican primary, he's presented himself as very conservative. And if he is the nominee, presumably, like a lot of Republican nominees, he would try to go back a little bit to the middle and highlight more of his pragmatic side.
KRANISH: But there's so many things about him - or so many things about public and politics and so forth, that, you know, that really are intangible. And I think part of what would be really interesting to see in a Mitt Romney presidency is how he deals with those intangibles. At the end of the day, you know, data can only get you so far and it doesn't tell you about relationships or dealing with people.
It wouldn't tell you about, you know, how to deal with foreign leaders or, sort of, mores in other cultures and so forth. And I think this is partly why he is struggling to connect with people, because you can only analyze and you can only wallow in the numbers so much, and then you have to sort of move beyond that and use emotional intelligence.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both very much. Michael Kranish, Scott Helman, thank you.
HELMAN: Thank you, Terry.
KRANISH: Great to be here, Terry.
GROSS: Michael Kranish and Scott Helman are the authors of "The Real Romney." You can read and excerpt on our website freshair.npr.org. Kranish and Helman are both with the Boston Globe. Coming up, John Powers reviews the new Mexican film "Miss Bala" about a young beauty who inadvertently gets caught in the drug war. This is FRESH AIR.
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